Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.09.73

Gregg Gardner, Kevin L. Osterloh, Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World. Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum, 123.   Tübingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2008.  Pp. viii, 475.  ISBN 9783161494116.  €109.00.  

Reviewed by Sabrina Inowlocki-Meister, Université de Lausanne (
Word count: 4195 words

This high quality volume edited by G. Gardner and K. Osterloh is the result of a colloquium entitled "Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World" and organized by the editors and P. Schäfer from January 22-24, 2006 at Princeton University. The collection of articles presented here will be of interest as much to students of Greco-Roman antiquity as to those of the Near-Eastern world.

It offers leading scholars' insights into the fascinating question of the ways in which collective memory is retrieved, exploited, and transformed by Greeks, Jews, and Christians from the third century BCE to the seventh century CE. In this framework, construction of continuity or discontinuity played a crucial role in building communal identities, legitimizing religious constructs, and enhancing social status. In their introduction, the editors stress the particular approach to their past as a specific object of inquiry which marks the ancients of the Greco-Roman world: they often view their own tradition as the continuation of an earlier glorious age and thus as a lens through which to define themselves. The editors also single out the approaches used in the volume, i.e. the process of communal identity construction, the nature of collective memory as inscribed in literature and material remains, as well as their re-interpretation by members of the group and their rival elite groups. The elite group at work in this brilliant volume provides interdisciplinary approaches to the subject, offering insights from the Classics, Judaic Studies, Early Christian Studies, Syriac Studies, Archaeology, and History. In the course of this review, I will delve into detail in only some of the papers, merely summarizing others, as the length of the volume makes it difficult to review it integrally in depth.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first one deals with "Jewish and Pagan Antiquities from the Late Hellenistic to the Early Imperial Period". It is made of four articles of which the first one is H. M. Zellentin's "The End of Jewish Egypt: Artapanus and the Second Exodus" (27-73). In this extensive paper on the much-debated author Artapanus, Zellentin offers new insights into the fragments preserved in Eusebius. It carefully investigates both biblical and non-biblical sources--mainly Diodorus, or rather his source--which he has usefully arranged in a comparative table. Contesting the interpretation as an apologetic text, Zellentin argues that Artapanus' textual methodology consisted in appropriating, transferring, and "travestying" both kinds of material in order to subvert them. The next section, devoted to the historical context, is innovative and well argued but is not, in my view, persuasive. Historicizing Artapanus' narrative, Zellentin attempts to date it by identifying the historical characters 'hidden' behind the main protagonists. According to him, Chenephres would be a conflation of a native king and of Ptolemy VIII Physcon; the narrative would be a re-telling in a Greco-biblical dress of the events of 118-116 in Egypt. Yet this ingenious re-construction raises many problems, of which only a few will be given as examples here: some of the correspondences between the narrative and the historical events mentioned in the article are in fact due to the influence of the biblical source itself (e.g. The good Palmanoth as Ptolemy VI, succeeded by the bad Chenephres as Ptolemy VIII: this only reflects the succession to the favorable king in Joseph's story of a bad king in Moses'). In some cases, the narrative contradicts the hypothesis (e.g., the correspondences between the decree of Amnesty of 118 and Artapanus' narrative: Zellentin claims that Artapanus sided with those reprimanded by the decree, i.e. the Greeks, and opposed the new elite favored by the decree, i.e. the Egyptian priests, but in his narrative Artapanus gives a rather positive image of the priests: there is only one occasion in which one priest is criticized). The suggestion I find the least plausible is that Artapanus' message, addressed to Jewish military leaders, would be to flee the country. There is absolutely no evidence that the Exodus narrative or other versions had ever been read in this way. This just goes to show that narratives such as Artapanus', or Joseph and Aseneth, hardly lend themselves to this type of historicizing approach.

The second paper is H. I. Flower's "Remembering and Forgetting Temple Destruction; The Destruction of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus in 83 BC" (74-92). Focusing on the destruction of this Temple in Rome, a central symbol of Rome, she deals with an understudied subject: temple destruction in the Roman world. If the destruction of the Jewish Second Temple has raised a great deal of interest in Jewish studies and beyond, this is not the case in Roman history. Thus this paper is recommended, not only for providing a comparative viewpoint to the reception of the destruction of the Jewish Temple, but also and especially for the new insights it offers where this specific topic is concerned. After describing the temple's history, role, context and significance, Flower investigates five attempts to define the meaning of its destruction in 83 BCE. The first text is Plut., Sulla 27. 12, which records Sulla's interpretation of the omen reported by Appian about the destruction of the Temple. According to him, the portent was associated with his own victory, thus contesting the view that it was a bad omen for him. Cicero, in Pro Roscio Amerino (80 BCE), claims that just as Jupiter is not responsible for all natural disasters, so too Sulla should not be blamed for every crime under his dictatorship. Thus he seems to react against religious interpretations with regard to portents such as that espoused by Sulla himself. In In Catilinam, Cicero, in 63 BCE, asserts that one of the conspirators, Lentulus, connected his future ruling over Rome to the twentieth anniversary of the burning of the Temple, basing himself on the authority of the sibylline oracles and the haruspices. Sallust suggests specific predictions of civil war connected with memories of the destruction. The fortieth anniversary of the temple's destruction also appears to be commemorated on a silver denarius in 43 BCE. Finally, after dealing with Augustus' moving of the items and the function of the temple, Flower quotes Tacitus' Hist. 3. 71-72, in which the historian offers some kind of obituary notice for the Temple. In this passage, he conflates the fires of both 83 BCE and 69 AD, not seeking a divine message, but emphasizing the decline of the politically corrupted Rome. In her conclusions, Flower stresses the fact that temple destructions were seen as pivotal events which created debates and interpretations. In late Republican Rome, it was associated with civil war and constitutional change. Reconstruction, however, conjured up images of a new age and embodied the rebuilding of society.

The third paper is S. Mason's "The Greeks and the Distant Past in Josephus' Judean War" (93-130). In the first pages, reviewing the main trends in Josephan scholarship, Mason deplores the lack of research on Josephus' relationship with his Greek literary environment. Referring to Ewen Bowie's work on the Greeks and their past and the latter's rejection of Josephus as a valid subject for the first century CE, he rightfully stresses the importance of Josephus as a Greek author having written on Greek affairs and on the Greek past. He also warns against the alleged 'hellenization' motivated by apologetic constraints generally ascribed to Josephus when dealing with the AJ. In this paper he turns to an analysis of the BJ and envisages it as representing neither pro- nor anti-war positions, but rather focuses on four thematic clusters running through the BJ: the virtue of the Judeans as a people, the presence of tragedy, the polis themes, and the cult of Jerusalem's deity. These clusters, as well as Josephus' atticizing style and his attacks against present-day Greeks, all demonstrate his awareness of Greek current trends in historiographical writing. The next section deals with book I of the BJ, attempting to answer the question why Josephus narrates a 250-year-old history while explicitly criticizing his contemporaries for focusing on the ancient past. Mason argues that Josephus tried to reclaim the power of that past for his own political ends: like other Greek historians (Polybius, Plutarch, Diodorus etc.), he saw the Romans as the best remedy against factionalism and local tyrants; the first thing done by Judas and Jonathan, according to Josephus, was precisely to conclude an alliance with the Romans. In the light of this argument, Josephus does not appear as being specifically pro-Roman but rather as a "cold realist" (cf. p 121). In the last section, looking at the famous speeches of Agrippa II in book 2 and Josephus' own in book V, Mason points to both characters' manipulations of the facts and to the arguments they share (e.g., freedom vs. slavery, the rotation of Fortune). The manipulation of the facts is explained by claiming that they are offered as a statesman's tour de force entirely conditioned by the present emergency. This leads Mason to define this attempt as a bowdlerized national history. The conclusion emphasizes the main results of Mason's careful investigation: Josephus "breathes the same air as Plutarch and Dio", culturally, linguistically, and politically; therefore, this study diminishes the idea of 'hellenization' as a category to explain Josephus' literary art: already in the BJ is Josephus' "Greek" cultural world revealed. Thus "Greek" and "hellenization" in fact designate the larger cultural world in which eastern-Mediterranean elites were engaged.

Doron Mendels' "How Was Antiquity Treated in Societies with a Hellenistic Heritage? And Why Did the Rabbis Avoid Writing History?" (131-150) has a more theoretical approach to the question of antiquity in ancient historiography. Attempting to map the perceptions of the past in societies of antiquity, Mendels develops a model for treating the past, which is spelled out in four themes. Under theme I ("the relationship of societies, groups, and individuals to their past: a schematic approach"), he identifies three types of social responses towards the past: the societies who are stuck in the past (e.g. Hellenistic Sparta vis-à-vis Lycurgan past), those who manipulate memories of the past (e.g. Hecataeus of Abdera), and those who look primarily forward (e.g. I Macc.). Theme II ("what were the modes for using the past in antiquity?") is explained as a "wholesale acceptance of the past material" (e.g. the recital of Homer in the Hellenistic period) and "manipulation of past material and intentional modification". The latter is divided into eleven sub-sections: 'frameworks' for the past; manipulative use of historical figures; manipulative use of time (past and present mixed together); projection of a present ideology or condition into the past; one past is projected onto another; pure invention of past data; translations; one inscribed tradition of the past is contaminated by the 'presence' of another; presenting the past as a linear sequence of carefully chosen key events; a synoptic approach to the past; and the fragmentation of the past in the public sphere. Theme III ("When and by whom?") asks the question of the identification of the moments and the actors of such alterations. According to Mendels, social and political innovations, including revolutions, caused societies to manipulate their past in order to re-define their identities. The actors were the powers-that-be, all those exercising power directly or indirectly in the society, up to and including, in the views of some, God himself. In theme IV ("the agents are not mere transmitters of the past, but rather significantly impact how antiquity is used in antiquity"), Mendels explains how "agents" (i.e. here, historiography), which are modes of presentation in the public sphere, destroyed much of the antique heritage: the canonization of imperialistic viewpoints, epitomization, etc. led to the disappearance of a great deal of material. In his conclusion, Mendel speaks about "destructive social currents towards the past in the Hellenistic period and beyond...societies, groups, and individuals were imbued with fragments of their past, but did not respect their histories in their totality" (150). These two sentences are revealing of that which I see as misconceptions: a) the article seems to assume a static, "canonical" view of a past that would be "original" and later on subject to change and manipulation. Yet such a view is more and more contested--and rightfully so, especially where biblical texts, for example, are concerned. b) Along the same line, I wonder if the terms, "destruction", "respect", "manipulators" and "manipulation" are really appropriate in order to describe the remodeling and creative reworking operated in ancient historiographical texts. It seems to be an anachronistic retrojection of modern historiography into the past. Moreover, the assumption that there was such a thing as wholesale acceptance of past material leaves me doubtful: the example of Clement of Alexandria, who did not significantly alter the quotations of classical sources, does not indicate that he accepted them fully; the mere change of context implied a deep alteration of their initial meaning (if there is such a thing at all).

Part Two "Jewish, Pagan, and Christian Antiquities in the Greco-Roman World" begins with P. Schäfer's paper "Rabbis and Priests, or: How to Do Away with the Glorious Past of the Sons of Aaron" (155-172). Indeed, Schäfer explains the way in which the rabbis rewrote biblical and post-biblical history, eradicating the priests from the collective memory of their people in order to turn themselves into the new heroes of Judaism. To support his argument, Schäfer provides persuasive examples such as an early rabbinical exegesis preserved in Sifre (on Nb) and Sifra (on Lv) which excludes Aaron from communication with God. The message underlying this exegesis is, according to Schäfer, that God's revelation to Moses is much more important than the service of the priests in the Temple and hence that the Torah--and thus its much needed interpretation by the rabbis--is more important than the worship in the Temple. Another example from the Mekhilta is given in which Aaron is actually added to a text to which he does not belong (Ex 7:1). Schäfer interprets this move not as simply showing the equality of Moses and Aaron but as pointing to the fact that they are indeed equal except as far as God's revelation is concerned. This in its turn would mean something like "we, the rabbis, have superseded the priests." Finally, Schäfer analyzes different passages from Pirqe Avot, including its famous chain of tradition in chapter I. He points out the conspicuous absence of the priesthood. Moreover, even when Aaron does appear in the tractate, he is presented as someone who made the Torah the center of his life, thus becoming a rabbinized Aaron. After another few examples, Schäfer concludes that in order to supersede the priests, the rabbis did not merely ignore them, but aggressively eliminated and/or recast them in the rabbis' own image. At the end of the paper, he persuasively answers different counterarguments to his thesis, e.g., the fact that in synagogue prayer, the priests have a prominent role, or that large parts of the mishnah abundantly refer to the Temple cult: in his eyes, these advertise "the ultimate victory and triumph of the rabbis: even the priestly domain has come under our tutelage" (172).

Next comes Annette Yoshiko Reed "'Jewish Christianity' as Counter-History? The Apostolic Past in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies" (173-216). In this brilliant essay, Reed takes a comparative approach to Eusebius' Church History and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, analyzing how they reshape and reconstruct the memory of the apostolic past to their own ends--often in a conflicting and idealizing way. Her purpose is to show how these reconstructions served to articulate the place of Judaism in Christian self-definition in the formative age of the fourth century. Reviewing modern research on both works, she points to the fact that it has mainly focused on the issue of sources rather than on the narrative dynamics and rhetoric at play in these writings, occasionally leading to an undervaluation of their importance. After arguing the validity of looking at these works together, she turns to an analysis of apostolic and Jewish succession and the issue of the transmission of truth. She demonstrates how the Homilies and the Church History, while converging e.g. in picturing apostolic teaching as the restoration of primordial religion, differ from each other in their presentation of both apostolic succession and Judaism. Indeed, in the Homilies, the identity of Moses and Jesus as prophetic figures is stressed and Christianity is somehow equated with Judaism. In contrast, Eusebius' emphasis on the story of Jesus and the apostles is counterpoint to the history of the Jews. Interestingly, she points out that whereas Eusebius' understanding of apostolic succession depends on the lineages of Hellenistic philosophical schools (cf. Momigliano), that of the Homilies may well be indebted to the rabbinic model expressed in Pirqe Avot (cf. A. Baumgarten). Contrary to Eusebius, the Homilies strikingly depart from mainstream Christian supersessionist ideas. Reed also underscores the difference of the treatment of the apostolic mission as well as that of Peter, Paul and Clement. The examination of orthodoxy and heresy, seen through the treatment of Simon Magus likewise provides points of both convergence and contrast. As far as Jewish Christianity is concerned, Reed decodes the consequences of Eusebius' emphasis on discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity in contrast to the Homilies' stress on continuity. She closes her paper on the possibility of envisaging both writings as counter-history, perhaps in a reciprocated relationship.

Lee Levine's "Jewish Collective Memory in Late Antiquity. Issues in the Interpretation of Jewish art" (217-254) offers the insights of archaeology and iconography. It mainly poses a number of methodological questions regarding the interpretation of Jewish art (e.g. the value of the parallels with Christian art). Reviewing several biblical scenes and pictorial symbols from Jewish Palestinian synagogues in the Byzantine period (e.g. portrayals of David as Orpheus in a Gaza synagogue, the Aqedah at Beith Alpha etc.), Levine tackles the issue of art interpretation. He finds unpersuasive S. Fine's and S. Schwartz's claim that the key to the interpretation of synagogue art is liturgy, a claim made on the basis of Christian parallels and argued with the support of piyyutim. He also warns against seeing Jewish-Christian polemics everywhere, posing the well-known question of the contrast between rhetoric and reality. The case of Sepphoris is nevertheless examined in further detail, but he concludes that its art is unlikely to have been prompted by this kind of polemics. The general conclusion offers methodological warnings against, e.g., the assumption of universal meaning.

The essay by Elizabeth Kessler-Dimin ("Tradition and Transmission. Hermes Kourotrophos in Nea Paphos, Cyprus", 255-281) studies the image of the infant Dionysos in the care of Hermes from a luxurious home in Nea Paphos, the House of Aion, in the fourth century CE. Investigating the long iconographic tradition which precedes this representation of Hermes Koroutrophos with the infant Dionysos, she attempts to demonstrate the significance of pagan art in the development of Christian iconography. The example of the infant Dionysos is especially fitting to this exercise, given the similarities with later representations of Mary and the infant Jesus. In particular, she shows how the motifs of manuum velatio and kourotrophos exemplify the way in which tradition "functioned as both a means to sustain the past and to spur on the creation of new 'pasts' more amenable to contemporary concerns." (280).

Part III of the volume is entitled "Antiquities of Late Antiquity and Today". It starts with a paper by Moulie Vidas. In his carefully researched article, Vidas examines "the Bavli's Discussion of Genealogy in Qiddushin IV" (285-326). The first part of the article deals with the Talmudic attitude towards genealogical knowledge on the purification of mamzerim and in a story about Rav Yehuda's trial. It demonstrates the rabbis' break with the second-Temple period's focus on ancestry and sheds light on the genealogical condition as a legal condition thus subject to change. The critical attitude of the Bavli towards its own culture is emphasized. In the second part, the opening sugya is analyzed. Through the analysis of the Talmudic discussion of Ezra's purification of Babylonia, Vidas demonstrates the innovative character of the Talmudic approach to genealogical inquiry--switching from a predilection for homogeneity to a concern for genealogical knowledge--and interestingly points to the reversal of the hierarchies between two central aspects of Ezra's actions, i.e., the return to Zion and the prohibition on intermarriage in the Bavli. Indeed, as Vidas points out, with respect to both genealogical and ethnic matters, it decentralizes the Jewish world by allowing multiple communities.

In "The Spoils of the Jerusalem Temple at Rome and Constantinople. Jewish Counter-Geography in a Christianizing Empire" (327-372), Ra'anan Boustan investigates the transformation of the theme of the Jerusalem spoils and their preservation of Jewish literature between 70 and 750. These traditions are mapped against broader developments in the Jewish response to the changing nature of Roman imperial discourse and practice. This enables him to locate a major shift in the deployment of this tradition in the context of the emerging Christian interest in sacred relics in the fifth and sixth centuries. The term "counter-geography" used in the title refers to Boustan's captivating thesis that in this period Jewish tales of discovery of sacred objects constitute a direct counterpart to the Christian process of travel to and Christianization of the Holy Land. The article contributes to the recent, cutting-edge scholarship which seeks to analyze Jewish resistance to and accommodation of the imperial power. In the article, Boustan notes the absence of the motif of the Temple's spoils in Greco-Roman literature, whereas it appears quite often in early rabbinic texts. Stressing how contentious and powerful visual access to the vessels was in early rabbinic literature, he concludes that this motif was established by the rabbis as a major continuity theme. In the Byzantine period, the theme becomes part of an eschatological discourse which itself is part of a larger discourse on sacred relics, both Jewish and Christian. Analyzing both Jewish and non-Jewish sources (Procopius, the Story of the Ten Martyrs, and 'Otot ha-Mashiah), he shows how Christianization shaped the ways in which Jews, in their messianic discourse, reimagined their salvation history against the shifting geography of empire.

Yannis Papadoyannakis' paper "A Debate about the Rebuilding of the Temple in Sixth-Century Byzantium" (373-382) focuses on a sixth-century work which has escaped notice of almost all scholars: Pseudo-Kaisarios' Erotapokriseis. This text addresses the question of the rebuilding of the Temple. Papadoyannakis investigates how the author countered the challenge of his Christian claims of dominance over the Jews. Obviously, prophecy was put at the service of demonstrating that the destruction had been foretold and proved the illegitimacy of the law; yet, like John Chrysostom (on whom he relied heavily), Pseudo-Kaisarios also attempted to show that the Temple would not be rebuilt, and it was with relief that he saw the Jews re-conquered and re-mastered.

In "Helena's Bridle and the Chariot of Ethiopia" (383-393), in a nice continuity with the paper by Boustan, Glen Bowersock explores the fascinating trajectory of two symbolic items of late antique Ethiopian identity: Helena's bridle, allegedly made by the queen out of the nails of the crucifixion, as well as the chariot of Ethiopia, in which supposedly the ark of the covenant magically flew in the days of Salomon from Jerusalem to Aksum. Both are used in an apocalyptic context related to Ps 68 in both Ethiopian sources (the Kebra Nagast) and in Syriac sources. The question raised, then, is why this tradition was accepted in late seventh-century Christian Edessa. The answer lies in monophysitism, as Ethiopian kings were making claims to the kingship of monophysite Greeks in the mid-fifth century. In this context, the ark was Aksum's answer to the True Cross in Constantinople, and the negus was presented as a new Constantine. Thus some Syriac texts preserved an earlier tradition of monophysite support for the negus as a post-Chalcedonian Constantine: "in 692 or 693 a western Syrian could still dream of an Ethiopian king of the Greeks in Jerusalem at the end of the world" (392).

Finally, A. Becker's "The Ancient Near East in the Late Antique Near East. Syriac Christian Appropriation of the Biblical East" (394-415) deals with the "assyrianization" of Syriac culture from the sixth century onwards. By "assyrianization", the author designates "the process whereby Syriac-speaking Christians in Mesopotamia employed the Assyria they found in the Bible as well as in Greek sources translated into Syriac as a model for understanding themselves and their place in the world" (398). Becker's paper begins with one eastern Syriac text, the History of Karkha d-Beth Slokh and the Martyrs therein, in which Jonah, for instance, plays an important role in linking antiquity and the recent Christian history of the city of Karkha d-Beth Slokh. Other figures and facts are investigated such as the reception of the figure of Daniel, Nimrod, and 2 Baruch. Further in the paper, he examines how the ancient past is employed to address contemporary issues. He suggests that the catalyst for the focus on Assyria found in certain Syriac texts may have been their historical exegesis or the political dynamic of the Christian community of the Sassanian and later Arab empires. The paper concludes with an interesting discussion on the relationship between religion and ethnicity in the specific context of late antique Syriac identity.

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